The service rifles of the Allied forces of World War 2 are, ironically, heavily influenced by the German Mauser. Milsurp collectors will enjoy them for their aesthetics, durability, and compatibility with modern ammunition.
Great Britain – Lee Enfield SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) Mk III
The British Lee-Enfield SMLE has a long development history stretching all the way back to the Magazine Lee-Enfield in 1895. Nicknamed the “Smelly” by the Tommies who used it, this bolt action rifle saw action everywhere from the bosvelds of South Africa to the shelled-out ruins of Dublin during the Easter Rising. It killed Germans in France and Frenchmen in Vietnam. The Lee-Enfield is one of the few 19th century service rifles to be in continuous service to this day.
An iconic milsurp rifle characterized by its unique blocky shape, the most remarkable feature of the Lee-Enfield is its 10-round detachable box magazine. Interestingly, the British officer class did not trust the competence of their own men enough to issue multiple magazines, since they feared they would simply be lost in the field. Instead, soldiers were issued with stripper clips so it could be loaded like a traditional bolt-action rifle.
The Enfield’s ten round magazine supported British rifle doctrine, which encouraged high rates of volley fire to suppress enemy infantry. A prime example of the British emphasis for rapid fire is the “mad minute.” This rifle technique was designed by the British Army’s School of Musketry in the years leading up to World War 1, and allowed soldiers to rapidly fire fifteen aimed shots in one minute with their Lee-Enfields. This was done by gripping the rifle’s bolt handle with the thumb and index finger while manipulating the trigger with the middle finger. It wasn’t as accurate as firing the rifle regularly, but when used by a platoon of soldiers, it sent massive amounts of towards the enemy. The best shooters could achieve an average accuracy of 10 MOA at 300 yards with all 15 rounds, enough to take down a man-sized target.
Despite its rather long service life, the Lee-Enfield’s design has largely gone unchanged since the 1900s. The modern version of the rifle in use by Indian police, the Ishapore 2A1, is chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO instead of the .303 British round used during World War 2. This Indian conversion of the Lee-Enfield makes it friendly for modern ammo, but the Ishapore is well known for its accuracy issues, with some models shooting at 6 MOA at 50 yards while others shoot an astounding 24 MOA at the same distance, making the worst of these Indian rifles practically indirect fire weapons.
Knowing this, anyone looking to purchase a true British Lee Enfield rifle should be on the lookout for the proof-marks from His Majesty’s Government. Low quality Enfields were made by Khyber Pass and Afghan gunsmiths, and many of the rifles were poorly maintained by the armies of the third world nations they ended up in.
Soviet Union – Mosin Nagant
Another rifle with a long and storied history, the Mosin-Nagant served in more wars than the AK-47, and sometimes served alongside it, primarily as a sniper rifle. This 7.62x54mmR rifle is the grand old man of Russian weapons, and first saw service in the Imperial Russian Army all the way back in 1893 against Afghan troops in the Pamir mountains. It’s highly plausible the descendants of those Afghans were using captured Russian rifles against US troops in the 2000s. Most famously, it saw action in both World Wars, and continues to be used by Russian conscripts and Donbass militias in the 2022 Ukrainian War.
The Mosin’s 7.62x54mmR ammunition is not as hard to find as those of other milsurp rifles such as the 8mm Mauser of the Kar98K or the 7.7mm Jap of the Type 99 Arisaka. The 7.62x54mmR has compatibility with rifles such as the Dragunov SVD and the Zastava M91 and is usually substantially cheaper than antique rounds like the Enfield’s .303 British.
The Mosin-Nagant was, first and foremost, designed as a frontline service rifle. It was built to be rugged, powerful, and easy to use – even by a conscript soldier with the equivalent of a third grade education. Millions of these rifles were produced, and many found their way into the United States, where they used to be sold like candy, sometimes for as low as $50. Nowadays, this Soviet milsurp rifle is beginning to be seen as a collector’s item, and prices have gone as high as $3,000 for pristine Russian versions of the rifle even though the average price hovers around the $300 – $400 mark.
The rifle’s action is not smooth by any means, and many milsurp Mosins suffer from “sticky bolt”, where the weapon’s bolt becomes hard to cycle. This is usually caused by a combination of old age, a lack of maintenance during the rifle’s lifetime, and a buildup of cosmoline.
However, the Mosin’s reliability is undeniable. Its simple construction allows for less opportunities to fail, and the only true flaws are caused by failures to clean and user loading errors. When Sergei Mosin designed his rifle, he must’ve envisioned it being used to bludgeon the enemies of Russia to death, because the weapon’s heavy stock is solidly built. Like its distant AK cousin, the Mosin is designed to take a beating. Decades of repeated abuse in the rocky mountains of Afghanistan and the Russian tundra mean little to this hardy milsurp rifle.
United States – Springfield M1903
If the Enfield was designed for volume of fire and the Mosin-Nagant was designed for reliability, the United States developed its World War 2 service rifle for accuracy. The Springfield M1903 was derived from the German Mauser, which was considered at the time to be one of the most accurate rifles of both world wars.
The Springfield M1903 was first developed to replace the Norwegian Krag Jorgensen which was used during the turn of the century in wars such as the Spanish-American War, the Cuban revolution and the Philippine-American War. American troops quickly discovered that enemy troops armed with Spanish Mausers were deadly accurate and could fire faster than they could, thanks in part to the Mauser’s ability to be loaded via stripper clips. The Krag, by contrast, featured a unique – but not necessarily practical – magazine loading gate, in which the weapon’s rounds would have to be loaded one at a time. Some blame the Krag’s deficiencies for the massive upset at the Battle of San Juan Hill, where a small garrison of about 500 Spanish troops inflicted numerous casualties on an American advance of more than 8,000 men.
Following the US victory in Cuba, captured Mausers were sent back to Springfield Armory for study. However, despite its name, many Springfield rifles were manufactured out of Rock Island Arsenal (not to be confused with the Philippine company Rock Island Armory). The Americans not only adopted the stripper clip feed system of the superior German-designed weapon, but in fact copied so much of the rifle that Mauser had grounds to sue Springfield Armory and the United States government by extension, so the Germans were awarded approximately $250,000 in royalties. Mauser would have won even more money if the US had not gone to war with Germany in World War 1. It’s safe to say Uncle Sam was relieved to be using taxpayer money to kill Germans instead of paying them.
According to reports from the troops in the trenches, the rifle had (and still has) outstanding accuracy and boasted better ergonomics than its German counterpart. When compared to the Mauser Gewehr 98, the forerunner to World War 2’s Kar98K, the M1903 was shorter, which made it lighter and easier to carry. Its .30-06 round also reached higher velocities than the Mauser’s 8mm round, and it could be outfitted with a special 20 round trench magazine, which enabled it to become a high-volume beast like the Enfield. The rifle was also considered to be very reliable. Failures were rare, with most being attributed to US soldiers trying to force their .30-06 Springfield rifles to use 8mm Mauser ammo.
By the time World War 2 rolled around, the United States Army had replaced the Springfield M1903 with the famous M1 Garand. However, the Marines, who have traditionally always been the last to receive new equipment, still held on to the M1903 even as they endeavored to kick the Japanese out of Guadalcanal in 1942. The devil dogs prized the rifle for its accuracy, and it ultimately helped shape the beginnings of the Pacific Campaign.
Today, the Springfield M1903 is one of the most expensive milsurp rifles, with prices frequently ranging in the 4 digits. The .30-06 is also far more common than many other milsurp rounds, since it’s still highly prized as a deer hunting round today. If you’re looking for an accurate rifle with modern ammo compatibility and money isn’t an object, the Springfield is the rifle you want.
Which of the rifles from the Allied forces would you like to own? Tell us in the comments below!
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